Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Tonight's Movie: The Big Cat (1949)

Preston Foster and Forrest Tucker play feuding ranchers in drought-stricken Depression-era Utah in THE BIG CAT (1949).

Years ago Gil (Tucker) had prevented Tom (Foster) from marrying his sister Lucy. There's great bitterness left from that time, but the men strive to peacefully co-exist in order to survive the drought. Tom is hoping to earn a government bounty if he's successful hunting a "big cat" which has come out of the hills in search of food and water, stealing the local farmers' stock. While Tom is on the hunt, Gil and his sons (Skip Homeier and Gene Reynolds) fell timber on Tom's property.

The arrival in the area of Danny (Lon McCallister), son of the recently deceased Lucy, reopens old wounds, culminating in an intense brawl between Tom and Gil. Meanwhile the big cat is still on the loose...

This is a moderately entertaining film, its strengths being a good cast and extensive location shooting in Kanab and Bryce Canyon, Utah. (The cinematographer was W. Howard Greene.) For the most part the script is a bit dull, and there's also some unexpected tragedy which was disappointing, but the film has the plus of being only 75 minutes long.

Another positive is that Foster has some particularly nice moments reacting to emotional news, and the previously mentioned brawl is really something else.

The eight-person cast also features Irving Bacon in a fine role as Matt, a farmer who also serves as both mailman and preacher. The scene where Matt presides over the three households having "Sunday meeting" is a gem. There might not be a church, but they still dress up and come together to worship, however briefly.

Sara Haden (Aunt Milly of the Andy Hardy series) is sympathetic as Matt's wife. Their daughter, who is thrilled to have a more refined young man living in the area than Gil's loutish sons, is played by Peggy Ann Garner (A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN).

The movie was directed by Phil Karlson, who later directed great crime films such as 99 RIVER STREET (1953) and THE BROTHERS RICO (1957).

I watched THE BIG CAT on a DVD from Alpha, a public domain company. The print was watchable, but only just; the print was quite soft and the soundtrack could have been a bit more clear. I rented it from ClassicFlix.

THE BIG CAT isn't a great film, but there are enough worthwhile moments in it that fans of the cast or director may find it worth taking a look.


Blogger Maricatrin said...

Thanks to an early acquaintance with Jim Kjelgaard's LION HOUND, Marguerite Henry's BRIGHTY OF THE GRAND CANYON, and Laura Ingalls Wilder's LITTLE HOUSE books, I was obsessed with Mountain Lions as a child. Whenever we went on a walk out of town I would stuff my pockets full of rocks, with the ludicrous intention of hurling them at the heads of any such beasts that might be lurking about.

Not sure I should make this dark admission, but ever since my youthful mind was thus warped, I have held a morbid fascination for stories featuring animal attacks (cats in particular), so of course I have seen this film. A good, accurate review, from what I recall (a similar tragedy occurs in LION HOUND, so I was expecting the worst here.) I also saw the Alpha print, which looks like the same one that is all over youtube at present. Too bad about these public domain titles, they seldom get much TLC.

7:58 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Maricatrin,

That's fun! LOL. I read the Henry book (along with Little House, of course) but never LION HOUND.

Thanks much for sharing your feedback. I have a feeling that this movie would be quite a bit more enjoyable if the Utah locations were shown off in a better print!

Got to thinking that Forrest Tucker sure did have some interesting fight scenes in his movies in this era. There is one in CORONER CREEK (1948) that's almost too painful to watch, and in ROCK ISLAND TRAIL (1950) he has a duel with mops dipped in boiling water!

Best wishes,

8:08 PM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

Oh, so then you might recall that drawing of the snarling cougar illuminated by the lighting strike in BRIGHTY? Engraven forever on my brain (lol). All those books were read to me before I had mastered the art myself... but LION HOUND was abruptly discontinued, so I had to finish that one later in time.

Forrest Tucker does have some memorable fights. The fist smashings were brutal, and the mops were pretty different! He also had quite a tussle with Randolph Scott in a mine while it was caving in, in THE NEVADAN.

All the best,

11:54 AM  

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